March 23rd, 2016

Blog: Tennis ‘State of the Industry’ Forum Takeaways


TOM conferenceWednesday opened the Tennis Owners & Managers Conference, held during the Miami Open at the Hilton Miami Downtown, including the Tennis Industry Association’s State of the Industry Forum.

The forum was a straight-forward and sometimes eye-widening presentation on the good, the bad, and the projected future concerning the latest news and data out of the tennis industry.

The Bad: Tennis could be and should be growing faster, attracting new adults and children to courts. In the U.S. 83 million adults and kids self-report as having “no physical activity,” and obesity rates are at an all-time high. “Core (frequent) player” participation and overall participation (adult and youth combined) were flat in the most recent year’s data. Youth “core players” are flat, and adult and youth racquet sales are down.

The Good: It’s an industry with a $5.73 billion economy, projected to grow another $1 billion by 2020. “Core players” alone spent $823 million on gear in 2014. Tennis remains the ONLY major participation sport with growth (6 percent) over the last eight years as other sports are losing players. Overall youth participation is slightly up, and is trending higher as kids age.

Hot topics:

The Generation Gaps — The tennis industry is having a hard time attracting “Millennials” (roughly current teenagers to early 30s) who sample sports but have a hard time committing. An even greater challenge perhaps? “Generation Z,” the kids following the Millennials who are now 23 percent of the population. They are majority minority, have grown up completely digital, are even more self-expressive, more open-minded, and most are 1st or 2nd generation in the U.S.

Digital Disruption — The mobile web has taken over. Tennis digital growth sales are 5X that of retail, and 3X that of entertainment sales for general merchandise. Digital and e-commerce have disrupted or dismissed old-school brick-and-mortar retail and the classic “tennis retail value chain” model. Mobile web/apps/social are tops in reaching consumers and players, and the industry is still adjusting.

Other take-aways:

The tennis demographic is harder to reach (as are most all demographics): Cell phones and the web have re-wired our brains when it comes to attention spans. The average attention span of 12 seconds in 2000 was reduced to 8 seconds in 2013 (and likely even shorter in 2016).

USTA play stats vary as USTA League participation was down slightly, while tournament participation was up almost 5 percent.

ESPN says it is killing it in regard to tennis coverage and viewership. ESPN tennis eyeballs have increased 45 percent over the last four years, with 10X tennis growth over the last 5 years on the WatchESPN app. What is ESPN’s largest tennis city market in the U.S.? West Palm Beach, Fla. — and the Southeast is their biggest viewer region.

USTA Tennis on Campus, the club tennis circuit where college and university clubs can compete against each other in a more social and friendly environment, was up 4 percent in participation. Tennis on Campus currently has clubs at 667 colleges and universities with more than 40,000 students playing on teams.

A number of speakers also shared coming industry changes, and changes that need to come about.

Kurt Kamperman, the USTA’s chief executive of Community Tennis and the USTA National Campus, gave an update on USTAU (“U” for university), which by 2017-18 will be offering degree programs at 10 U.S. universities for Professional Tennis Management, and an update on the USTA National Campus in Orlando. He also elaborated on the Sports Performance district that the Tavistock Group is creating, which will include the USTA National Campus, the USPTA Headquarters, Orlando City Soccer and other organizations, in addition to a 50,000 square foot Sports and Performance building where companies can rent space.

“You’re the first group to hear about this,” Kamperman said. “This is a great opportunity for organizations to be included in this sports performance hub. That’s why we’re there — we’re a mile from Tavistock’s Medical City, and what they’re creating with the Sports Performance district is a melting pot of research, sports science, technology, and health and wellness. You put all those things together and you have an epicenter for innovation.”

The forum closed with Dr. Jack Groppel, the renowned health and wellness expert (and tennis fan), who delivered a passionate plea for the tennis industry to do a better job of telling its own story in regard to ease of play and the benefits of an active lifestyle.

“We are good at intellectualizing about [getting people playing] and creating way too many initiatives, but not at changing behaviors,” said Groppel, who stressed that the industry needs to do a better job of marketing available health benefit data to decision-makers outside the tennis industry. “There is too much preaching to the choir — we need to utilize the ‘science of storytelling’ to reach legislators and change the minds of the people in power.”

Groppel also touched on alarming statistics regarding individuals spending all-time-high amounts of time staring at screens during the day, leaving little time for fitness or health.

“No one has taught the American people how to set boundaries and make time to stay active,” he says. “We settle for these conditions, then say we have no time for exercise or activity…The No. 1 way brain growth happens is exercise and activity.”

Some of the challenges to the industry already have countermeasures implemented, or in process.

For the increasing number of people who according to polls self-identify as “having less time,” one-day tournaments such as Fast4 and Tiebreak Tournaments are growing in popularity. Regarding the challenge of player data and grabbing eyeballs digitally, the USTA national body is in the midst of a digital platform revision that will include greater data-capture capabilities that will be used to attract and retain more players. Regarding some facets of youth participation flat-lining, the increasing adoption of the USTA 10 and Under Tennis format by teaching professionals is expected to keep more young players in the game and transitioned into school-age, Junior Team Tennis and tournament play. And the Tennis Industry Association is partnering across the board to attract players and grow the game.

It was some eye-opening stuff, and obviously of interest to the tennis industry attendees, of which there were double over the previous year.

The Tennis Owners & Managers Conference runs through Friday. For more info go to